Engineering 101

Startups are working on watertight solutions for smart swimming goggles

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Michael Sawh from Wareable takes a look through smart swimming goggles.

I’m at a point in my life where I basically can’t go to the gym or out for a run without tracking an activity in some shape or form. Part of that is down to the job of having to rigorously test all manner of wearables, the other part is that it just feels weird not having some record of that session or workout. If you didn’t track it and can’t pore over the data afterwards, it’s like that workout never happened, right?

When I’m not running and want to give those legs a break I usually make my way to the pool. While previously I had not really cared all that much about counting laps or SWOLF scores, wearables have quickly started to change that mindset. The likes of Garmin and Polar have had this territory well covered for a while now with its sports watches. Throw in Apple, Fitbit and more recently Samsung and the decision to add swim tracking to their smartwatches. There’s never been more options for swimmers to choose from.

Now, I don’t actually have a problem with the kind of swim tracking that these watches offer on the whole. I’ve used Garmins, Apple Watches and Suuntos and have always come away satisfied that they have delivered. A look down at the wrist in between laps and taking a breather and I can very quickly get a sense of how I’m performing (or not performing) in the pool.

Heads, shoulders, knees and toes

But I do think that there is an opportunity for swimming wearables to do more, whether that’s through more insightful metrics or even real-time coaching. And while I feel like wrist-worn wearables are doing an admirable job, moving the smarts somewhere else, specifically up to the goggles, could help open that door to more innovation.

I’m not of course alone in feeling like this needs to happen. Startups have already begun exploring the idea of smartening up swimming goggles. Before I joined Wareable I remember first hearing about Instabeat and its crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. It promised a swimming wearable that was mounted onto a pair of goggles and was able to deliver a host of metrics including heart rate monitoring. Despite hitting its crowdfunding goal though, these smart goggles have still not seen the light of day. They were supposed to launch in 2013 and then that shipping date moved to spring 2017. They’ve still not turned up and I have my doubts whether they ever will.

Since then other smart swimming goggles have surfaced, like Zwim’s heads-up display that’s also currently raising funds on Indiegogo. We are also still hoping to hear more from Ovao and its swim-friendly virtual training assistant as well. Ultimately though, we are still waiting for our first pair of truly smart swimming goggles.

I’m no designer or engineer, but I’ve spoken to enough companies and startups to understand the challenges of making a wearable. When you factor in trying to make a wearable that works flawlessly in the water, it can only make that process even more difficult, which is probably the big reason why we haven’t seen those connected goggles just yet.

A watertight solution

Take waterproofing for instance. It’s something we often take for granted on fitness trackers or smartwatches, but even big names like Fitbit have admitted that it had issues building a wearable fit for the water. Durability aside, there’s also the question of packing components and sensors into a something that’s designed to be slimline and unobtrusive. Even in the water, I don’t think anybody will want to find themselves having to wear a chunky piece of tech on their face, no matter how smart or innovative it is.

I don’t know when we will see our first pair of smart swimming goggles but I do know I still want them. There doesn’t seem to be any indication just yet that companies like Apple, Samsung or even the likes of Speedo are exploring in this space. So it looks like it’s over to the startups like Ovao and Zwim and to make them a reality. Hopefully that reality of donning futuristic goggles that track your performance and can project swim data in front of your face is not too far away. My gut feeling though is that there’s still some work to be done before I’m able to ditch that sports watch.

Source Wareable Zwim / Indiegogo

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